A flexible body is not a pre-requisite for practicing yoga asanas, but is a by-product of the process of purification. When I started on the practice I was far from the ideal of a stretchy bendy contortionist body. I still remember the time I struggled to even reach my toes without needing to bend my knees, it was not that long ago! My flexibility issue was aggravated by being surrounded in yoga classes by people who did not have this problem at all. More correctly, it was aggravated by my mental comparisons of my body’s level of flexibility with theirs.
It was a difficult time of non acceptance, I was constantly reminding myself how far from lofty yogic standards my body was in terms of its flexibility. Stretching my hamstrings was a constant uphill battle of self torture, where even the smallest lapse in practice would allow the body to return to its inflexible state erasing all the meager gains I had. I felt a lot like Sisyphus condemned to roll a boulder up a hill only to see it tumble back down time and time again.
Then something changed that completely turned the practice around. It was the epiphany of “Ahimsa”, the yogic principle of non harming and non violence translated to how I treated my own body, and how I approached my practice.
We’ve all been taught to understand that hard work, sacrifice and grim bloody determination is what maketh the man. That could not be any farther from the Truth!
Ahimsa invites you to stop viewing yourself as someone who needs to be constantly punished for not achieving some faraway ideal. It wants you to reliquish the conditions you put on yourself before you are allowed to be happy for who you are at the present moment. Ahimsa when applied to the self is Acceptance, Surrender and Openness.
The real journey to flexibility for me had only really begun when I began understanding these lessons, more so than any regime of forced stretching to mold the body into something it is not prepared to be.
The body is a manifestation of the mental state. If the mind is dogmatic, presumptuous, closed and inflexible, if you practice with the spirit of self criticism and non-acceptance, then the body would be similarly rebellious, stiff, painful and tight. Injuries and setbacks would abound and your meager gains will be paid for with blood and sweat and many tears. How nightmarish, frustrating and non-productive would the journey be!
If the practice is one of self exploration and acceptance, mental purification and detachment, if boundaries are explored with the spirit of playfulness and adventure, the body responds with joy and openness. It will cosntantly upgrade itself to rise to the enthusiastic plan you have of it. Your practice will become “Nithyothsava”, an unending celebration. Your mental state will be “paramasukadam”, a joy that requires no reason for being.
Therefore, the practice begins and ends with the inner mental work, not the outer physical one. So if there are 3 main pointers I can share with anyone gunning for a flexible body, it’s this:
- Constant Gratefulness for the gift of a beautiful body able to practice yoga, appreciating it as it is at the present moment, and not what you want it to be.
Curiosity to explore what it is capable of, always approaching your boundaries with playfulness and adventure.
Courage to continuously unearth and let go of mental patterns that no longer serve you, that are instead serving to keep you in an inflexible prison with very very small and dirty windows that distort the truth and make the world look similarly dirty and small.
Best wishes for your own journey of mental detoxification and purification. Practice with joy in the body and peace in the heart. See you on the mats!
Photograph credit: Papergirl Pam